Benton County is taking its battle with the union representing its corrections officers to court.
More than a year after it discovered it had accidentally overpaid 89 workers $130,000 because of a software mistake, the county is battling Teamsters Local Union No. 839 over repayment terms.
The county commission wants Benton County Superior Court to review an administrative decision that it erred when it deducted money from corrections officers' paychecks after it discovered that it had overpaid them for several months in 2016.
The Public Employees Relations Commission twice ruled that Benton County improperly recovered the money through payroll deductions because it did not negotiate a repayment plan with Local 839, which represents the workers.
PERC ordered the county to refund the money, with interest, and to negotiate repayment terms with the union.
The county asked Benton County Superior Court to review the PERC decision earlier this month. after discussing the matter in executive session in March. The county argues PERC erred when it ruled Benton County had committed unfair labor practices.
The county auditor discovered the accidental overpayment of wages and salaries in November 2016. The error was caused by an accounting software error in the auditor's office.
The county opted to recover the overpayments through payroll deductions.
It says it complied with statutory requirements governing such situations, noting it offered employees the option to have the full amount deducted from their paychecks, or to choose the amount they wanted regularly deducted.
It later offered employees the opportunity to repay the money by cashing out accrued leave or compensatory time.
The Teamsters requested the opportunity to negotiate repayment terms. Then-Sheriff Steve Keene offered to meet with the union but noted he was unable to negotiate.
The Teamsters filed unfair labor practice complaints with the state in December 2016. The county began deducting funds from paychecks in January 2017.
In a 2017 decision, a state examiner ordered the county to return the money to employees, with interest, and to negotiate with the union.
The county appealed the ruling to the PERC commission, which upheld their examiner's decision in a ruling released last month.
The county disputes the ruling, saying employees had no right to retain unearned income..
"Benton County has been substantially prejudiced and aggrieved by the commission's decision that (it) committed unfair labor practices when following express statutory authority to recover the accidental overpayment of wages for hours not worked by deductions from subsequent wage payments," it argues.
It argues PERC acted outside its statutory authority, misinterpreted the law and that its actions were not supported by the evidence.
"The decision/order is arbitrary and capricious," it said in court documents.
The county wants the court to reverse the decision and declare PERC violated the constitution. It wants lawyers fees.
Stephen Hallstrom, a senior deputy in the Benton County Prosecutor's Office, is representing the county.